History is full of unsolved mysteries. Over the years, archaeologists and researchers have managed to explain some of them, but plenty of answers remain unknown to this day. Luckily, dedicated groups of researchers and scholars have made it their mission to uncover the truth.
One of the biggest unsolved historical mysteries has to do with the first English settlement in America in historic Jamestown, Virginia. Under one of the earliest Jamestown churches lies a massive tombstone. The grave, known as the Knight’s Tomb, has been untouched for over 400 years, and now researchers are trying to determine who exactly is buried within…
Nearly 400 years ago, English colonists made their way to America and built a settlement for themselves in Jamestown, Virginia. Underneath one of the first churches was a mystery that has long puzzled historians and scholars. That is, until now…
Jamestown was the first permanent settlement in North America in 1607. Colonists constructed their society on the banks of the Powhatan River. It was an exciting time, but life soon proved much harder than they’d anticipated.
During the winter between 1609 and 1610, also known as “starving time” among the settlers, a whopping 90 percent of the colonists died. At the start of the season, the colony was bustling with nearly 500 people, but by the time spring rolled around, there were only 60 left.
The settlement was temporarily abandoned; fortunately, it didn’t take long before it was a thriving place for trade again. It became the capital of Virginia until 1699, and historians have spent years investigating the colony’s many mysteries.
One such mystery involves the first church that the colonists ever constructed. It was built in 1617, and it was perhaps the most important building of the settlement. It was also home to the colony’s biggest secret…
Beneath the centuries-old structure was a grave known as the Knight’s Tomb. Who could be buried in a grave so prominent? Archaeologists were on a mission to figure it out, but they knew there was a lot of history to unpack before they could do so.
The mystery of who was buried within the Knight’s Tomb was one that eluded archaeologists and scholars for years, but now, with the proper excavation tools, one team of experts hoped to get to the bottom of it once and for all.
The massive three-foot-by-six-foot gravestone weighed about 1,200 pounds. The archaeologists tasked with opening it knew it would be no easy feat, but they were ready to give it their best shot. History depended on it!
Jonathan Appell, an archaeologist from the group Atlas Preservation, was in charge of the excavation. The Atlas Preservation firm had participated in other digs involving monumental stones, so they had the expertise required for the Jamestown project.
After Appell and his team created a detailed plan of the conservation effort, they needed to figure out a way to move the massive structure. The artifact had been broken into pieces over time, so it was going to take an extreme amount of care.
First, the team had to remove the cement surrounding the tomb. Using a large chisel and a handheld rock saw, Appell chiseled away at the mortar. After he was finished, the pieces of the stone lid could finally be removed.
Due to the sheer weight of the stones, the team needed to build a specially constructed rig so they wouldn’t hurt themselves. The team had to slowly pry and lift the pieces one by one up the wooden ramp…
Most of the pieces were light enough so only one or two team members could finagle them onto the rig, but the last piece was so large it required four team members! After a lot of careful muscling, they finally removed all of the pieces.
The last time the Knight’s Tomb was conserved was way back in the early 20th century. In order to find out who was inside, Appell’s team actually had to undo much of the original restoration effort.
The team did their best to keep all of the pieces in near-perfect condition. After the project was complete, they planned to put the stone back together using a specially mixed mortar and custom pigmentation.
Once the stones were removed, it was time to figure out who the tomb commemorated. The stone had the shape of a knight inscribed on it, which meant it had to have been a knight who died in Virginia in the first half of the 17th century. The team was getting closer to the answer…
Preservation Virginia, a statewide preservation organization that was working with Appell’s team, was able to narrow down the number of possible candidates to just two men. The first was Thomas West, an English politician who died at sea while traveling from England to Jamestown.
However, the workers at Preservation Virginia pointed out that it’s always better to examine the offspring of the potential candidates for a more conclusive answer, and that was when the team looked at the family of the second potential candidate, Sir George Yeardley.
After some thorough research, the organization discovered a journal written by Yeardley’s step-grandson, Adam Thorowgood II, which contained some potentially groundbreaking information. Thorowgood wrote that his family wanted to have a black marble tomb with the crest of Sir George Yeardley inscribed on it—and the exact same inscription was on the mysterious Knight’s Tomb!
This was the most conclusive evidence the team managed to find! Yeardley served as deputy governor of Virginia in 1616 and 1617, and he was eventually appointed governor of Virginia in 1618. It’s now believed that after his death in 1627, he was the man the settlers buried in the Knight’s Tomb. The mystery was finally solved!
It took a lot of meticulous work, but the talented team of archaeologists were finally able to solve one of history’s oldest mysteries. Cross the Knight’s Tomb off the list!
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